Thanks to all who made the CEDAR VALLEY STEM Festival a GREAT EVENT!
Andrew Wind of the Waterloo Cedar Falls Courier:
WATERLOO | Teaching young people about science, technology, engineering and math is nothing new to Iowa State University Extension.
With the help of its 4-H clubs and programs, Extension introduces the STEM subjects to students. “It’s our mission to take what’s learned at the university here to the state,” said Jay Staker, STEM director for 4-H at Extension headquarters in Ames.
Historically, the clubs did that through a focus on topics like agriculture, entrepreneurship and natural sciences. What was once more about “cutting edge agriculture and food safety research,” said Staker, now encompasses everything from robotics to renewable energy and computer science. It’s all an outgrowth of the underlying 4-H and Extension mission, though.
“We were doing STEM before it was STEM,” said Staker. “It’s really nothing new for us – except, of course, the label.”
Kendra Crooks, a youth program specialist with ISU’s Black Hawk County Extension, said STEM-based kits and curriculum are available through the agency’s office for schools and youth organizations. Local staff has provided hands-on learning activities for multiple organizations and summer camps in recent years.
She said there are many additional examples of Extension’s efforts to promote STEM learning across the community.
Black Hawk County 4-H has opportunities for children of all ages to get involved in robotics with a Junior Lego League team, two Lego League teams and a FIRST Tech Challenge team. FIRST, an acronym meaning For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology, is the organization that created the Tech Challenge and Lego League competitions.
“In the past two years, we’ve assisted with the start-up of eight youth gardens in partnerships with schools and other youth agencies,” Crooks wrote in an email. She said that helps students learn about local foods, how plants grow, nutrition and the environment. Extension staff has also supported two other gardens involving young people and other volunteers.
With 4-H’s rural roots, though, ISU Extension is piloting a strategic initiative aimed at reaching more urban students. The organization partnered with Waterloo Community Schools to staff the greenhouse built as part of George Washington Carver Academy.
“That kind of led to some beginning conversations, and from there it kind of grew,” said Staker. “We’re working with all grade levels now and trying to connect them with Iowa State.”
Since January, a two-year grant of nearly $115,000 from Iowa State has been funding a variety of STEM programming at Orange Elementary School and Carver, which is a middle school. It is also helping to fund the Nov. 21 STEM festival at the Five Sullivan Brothers Convention Center.
The grant has paid for after-school STEM clubs, professional development for two teachers, a field trip to Iowa State and a number of summer camps. The camps focused on robotics, virtual reality, gardening and wildlife management.
Staker noted that the Orange students brought iPad tablet computers into the field for a camp at Hartman Reserve Nature Center where they studied mussels. The devices became portable learning labs as students took pictures and used a digital microscope feature.
Since they’re not in the classroom, he acknowledged that students may not recognize all of the hands-on STEM activities they can participate in through 4-H as educational. But Staker said the organization is definitely aiming to teach young people in ways that interest them, “because this is an additional experience” that they can walk away from if they don’t enjoy it.
“So, we have to make it something that engages them,” he said.
Thank You! Waterloo Cedar Falls Courier!
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